Recent political developments have focused on the north-south divide and now the government is suggesting that it will back plans to build a science and innovation hub in the north, which will most likely be based in Leeds. The north-south divide applies to many different aspects of society in the UK, including income level, funding provision and regional opportunities in education and professional progression. It is hoped that the hub will become a world-leading institution capable of challenging the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
Currently, Oxford, Cambridge and London contribute to major national research outputs that make up the bulk of scientific developments. This has caused a tendency for northern universities to perform poorly on the league tables for research and the hub will aim to boost their statuses and present the north as a highly-innovative region.
However, there are concerns as to whether serious development will be put to these claims and whether the correct approach will be taken to ensure the hub is a success. Talk of balancing the north-south divide is not new and previous attempts to improve the situation have often come to nothing. In 2017, funding was so disparate that the south-east, east and London regions received over £18b, while the north received a measly £1.6b. To truly address imbalance, the government must be prepared to provide the north with considerable funding that is comparable, if not equal, to that given to the south.
There are also concerns surrounding approach. It has been suggested that the government will control research carried out at the northern hub, which is off-putting for many UK academics. This model mirrors similar research initiatives in the US, which gives the government much more opportunity to alter the course of research focus and development. In the UK, institutions have been granted the respect of choosing their own path and not having their research or its processes interfered with for over two hundred years – to imagine a future of research that is influenced by an entity outside of universities as powerful as the government is not desirable for those working in the sector.
However, challenges do not seem to hold the north back. Despite low funding streams, the region continues to prove its worth as a major source of national innovation – the University of Sheffield has used funds to build an Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Rotherham, which has attracted Boeing and McLaren to open factories at the site. The University of Sheffield has progressed in other areas of science as well, taking a positive approach to climate change and opening a zero waste shop on campus - read our news article here.